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Why a Shooting Coach Would Be a Great Investment for the Chicago Bulls

Not only do shooting coaches tend to have short and long-term positive impacts, but there’s a great one waiting to be hired right now.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bulls need help. Professional help.

That’s a statement that could currently apply to a variety of areas within this organization, but perhaps none has a more pressing need for such assistance than when it comes to the team putting the ball in the basket. Put simply, it’s been exhausting watching this current Bulls squad struggle to swish the nets this season from anywhere other than the freethrow line. In fact, this season that’s the only shooting statistic the Bulls find themselves ranked beyond the bottom third of the NBA in (79.6%, 7th overall).

But everywhere else? It’s been a nightmare:

  • 27th overall in field goal percentage (44%)
  • 29th overall in true shooting percentage (52.4%)
  • Last by over a full percentage point in effective field goal percentage (47.7%)
  • Last in 3-PT percentage (31.6%)

Done throwing up yet? Well, grab another garbage can, because there are still 27 games left for the Bulls to shoot themselves out of this season. But writing about how bad it’s been doesn’t seem to do much good for anybody, so rather than remind fans once again about this predicament that has plagued the Bulls nearly all season, I’m going to suggest how the Bulls can turn around this problem:

Hire an assistant coach that explicitly focuses on improving the team’s shooting.

Shooting coaches aren’t a new concept, nor as popular as one would expect in the modern NBA, but this is quickly changing as their track record for success becomes more league-wide knowledge. According to the Wall Street Journal, entering the 2012-13 season, only six teams across the NBA employed shooting coaches on their staffs, and half of them had gotten hired that very offseason. The three teams that had shooting coaches prior to that season (Dallas, San Antonio, and Indiana) were reaping the rewards of their presences as far back as 1997.

Given the rise of this trend, I wanted to take a look at as many shooting coaches as I could and gauge the on-court success of their squads over an array of seasons to get an idea of just how helpful one can be for an organization. I was able to find 42 seasons’ worth of shooting stats from teams that had shooting coaches employed on their staffs with which to draw conclusions about their effectiveness. I listed the results for field goal percentage and 3-PT percentage in the table below by coach in alphabetical order.

Two quick notes:

  1. This is not a fully-encompassing data set. There is no master list online for every tenure that every shooting coach has had with every team, so I had to piece together this table by manually researching the careers of many of these coaches. In a lot of cases, information about how long a coach stayed with a team was unavailable even though the coach did work for the organization, so because of that I left out the tenure entirely. A great example of this is Dave Hopla, whom worked for the Raptors and Knicks before joining the Pistons last season.
  2. There were other coaches I deliberately left out such as Gary Boren (with the Mavericks since 1997 but almost exclusively focuses on boosting freethrow percentage) or shooting coaches that also serve(d) as overall Directors of Player Development.

NBA Shooting Coach Performance

Coach/Team/Year Field Goal % Change from Previous Season 3 PT % Change from Previous Season
Coach/Team/Year Field Goal % Change from Previous Season 3 PT % Change from Previous Season
Chip Engelland (Pistons, 1999-00) 1.20% -0.60%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2005-06) 1.90% 2.20%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2006-07) 0.20% -0.04%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2007-08) -1.70% -1.20%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2008-09) 0.90% 1.70%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2009-10) 0.70% -2.80%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2010-11) 0.20% 3.90%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2011-12) 0.30% -0.40%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2012-13) 0.30% -1.70%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2013-14) 0.50% 2.10%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2014-15) -1.80% -3.00%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2015-16) 1.60% 0.80%
Chip Engelland (Spurs, 2016-17) -0.60% 3.30%
Dave Hopla (Pistons, 2015-16) 0.70% 0.10%
Dave Hopla (Pistons, 2016-17) 1.80% 0.70%
Josh Oppenheimer (Bucks, 2013-14) 0.30% -0.70%
Josh Oppenheimer (Bucks, 2014-15) 2.10% 1.00%
Josh Oppenheimer (Bucks, 2015-16) 0.80% -1.80%
Josh Oppenheimer (Rockets, 2016-17) 1.30% 1.50%
Mark Price (Grizzlies, 2007-08) -1.10% -1.80%
Mark Price (Hawks, 2008-09) 0.40% 1.00%
Mark Price (Hawks, 2009-10) 1.00% -0.60%
Mark Price (Warriors, 2010-11) -0.80% 1.70%
Mark Price (Bobcats, 2013-14) 1.70% 1.60%
Ben Sullivan (Hawks, 2014-15) 0.80% 1.70%
Ben Sullivan (Hawks, 2015-16) -0.80% -3.00%
Ben Sullivan (Hawks, 2016-17) -0.20% -0.70%
Bob Thate (Nets, 2006-07) 1.70% 3.40%
Bob Thate (Nets, 2007-08) -1.40% -1.50%
Bob Thate (Clippers, 2012-13) 2.30% 0.10%
Bob Thate (Clippers, 2013-14) -0.40% -0.60%
Bob Thate (Clippers, 2014-15) -0.10% 2.40%
Bob Thate (Clippers, 2015-16) -0.80% -1.20%
Bob Thate (Grizzlies, 2016-17) -0.80% 2.50%
John Townsend (Blazers, 2007-08) -0.20% 3.10%
John Townsend (Blazers, 2008-09) 1.70% 0.60%
John Townsend (Blazers, 2009-10) -0.40% -2.90%
John Townsend (Raptors, 2011-12) -2.50% 2.40%
John Townsend (Raptors, 2012-13) 0.60% 0.30%
John Townsend (Raptors, 2013-14) -0.10% 2.90%
John Townsend (Grizzlies, 2013-14) 2.00% 0.80%
John Townsend (Sixers, 2016-17) 0.60% 1.20%

Some observations from this data:

  • In 12 of the 17 tenures observed, teams saw an increase in their field goal percentage from the start to the present/end of the shooting coach’s time with the team. In 13 of the 17 tenures observed, teams saw an increase in their 3-PT percentage under the same circumstances. Josh Oppenheimer had the most success with improving field goal percentage (while with the Bucks, +3.2%), while John Townsend had the most success with improving 3-PT percentage (while with the Raptors, +5.6%).
  • On average, teams saw their field goal percentages rise +.82% during their shooting coach’s tenure. For 3-PT percentage, the average was +1.09%.
  • When accounting for all 42 seasons individually, the average season with a shooting coach saw a team increase their field goal percentage by +.33%. For 3-PT percentage, the average season yielded a +.44% increase.
  • In the first year of 13 of the 17 tenures observed, teams saw their field goal percentage increase by an average of about +1.15%. For 3-PT percentage, the first year of 14 of the 17 tenures observed yielded an increase by an average of roughly +1.66%.

So when examining the performance of shooting coaches along virtually any scope, it’s clear that they positively influence the shooting performances of their respective teams. Given that the Chicago Bulls are on pace to lead the association in average home attendance for the seventh straight season, I think the franchise can afford to shell out an extra six figures to hire somebody that can help alleviate their most glaring on-court flaw. But with many of the best shot doctors in the world already signed away to other NBA franchises, where does that leave the Bulls to look?

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer did a comprehensive breakdown of the NBA’s best shooting coaches (and projects that needed their attention) prior to the start of this season. In it, he spent one of the portions of his article profiling a popular shot guru with a masterful understanding of mechanics, an approach geared towards unique solutions for every player, and 370K+ subscribers to his Youtube basketball advice company’s channel.

That man’s name is Collin Castellaw, and this Idahoan could very well be the man that gets the Chicago Bulls out of the jumper gutter:

[Castellaw] graduated with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Washington State, and from Lewis-Clark State with a teaching certificate. He then returned to Idaho, where he taught art and coached basketball at Notus High School, a tiny school with 16 faculty members and under 200 students. Castellaw saw that his shooting guidance helped his players improve, and he wanted to spread his knowledge beyond the high school gym. So he created Shot Mechanics, a company that provides personalized basketball coaching to players all the way from elementary school to the NBA. Castellaw has over 300,000 YouTube subscribers, which makes Shot Mechanics one of the most popular basketball education channels on the web. He has consulted for NBA players Donald Sloan and John Jenkins.

“One tweak can affect all the mechanics,” Castellaw tells me. “I try to think of the jump shot as a living, breathing organism. It’s almost like the human body. If the kidneys start going bad, the rest of the body goes pretty quickly. That’s the way a jump shot feels.”

Uniqueness is something Castellaw emphasizes. “What you see at a lot of levels with shooting coaches is they get their set of rules in mind,” he says, “and even if you’re getting good results outside of those rules, they still want you to bend to their rules because they think that’ll make you better.” This might be the issue for some players, who, no matter how much effort they put into their shots, are unable to make strides.

Castellaw believes shooting needs to be thought of not as right or wrong, but as problem-solving. —Kevin O’Connor

Looking at the Bulls’ vomit-enducing shooting stats again, a problem-solver seems like exactly what the team needs to get over its horrific shooting woes. If I were general manager for this Chicago Bulls team, I would certainly give Coach Castellaw a call and have him on the next flight out of Boise for an interview. After all, having a shooting coach on staff definitely seems to benevolently affect almost every NBA team that employs one, and the Bulls certainly need all the help they can get at this point to score more efficiently outside the paint and beyond the arc.